From "NFL For Dummies"
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The Positions in a Football Secondary
By Howie Long and John Czarnecki from Football For Dummies, 4th US Edition
The secondary is the name given to the group of players on an American football team who make up the defensive backfield. All the players who make up the secondary are called defensive backs, but that category is further divided. In a nutshell, these players are responsible for preventing the opponent’s receivers from catching the ball. If they fail, they must then make the tackle, preventing a possible touchdown. The different players work in slightly different ways.
The cornerback is typically the fastest of the defensive backs. The ideal NFL cornerback can run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, weighs between 180 and 190 pounds, and is at least 6 feet tall. However, the average NFL cornerback is about 5’10”. Although speed and agility remain the necessary commodities, height is becoming a factor in order to defend the ever-increasing height of today’s wide receivers.
Here’s the cornerback’s role in two specific types of coverage:
Cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage: Most defensive schemes employ two cornerbacks (CB) in man-to-man coverage against the offense’s wide receivers (WR).
- Cornerbacks in zone coverage: If a team’s cornerbacks are smaller and slower than its opponent’s receivers, that team usually plays more zone coverages, fearing that fast receivers will expose its secondary’s athletic weaknesses. However, if you have two talented cornerbacks, your team can play more man-to-man coverage.
Most defenses employ two safeties — a strong safety and a free safety. They must see and recognize the offense’s formations and instruct their teammates to make whatever coverage adjustments are necessary:
- Strong safety: Of the two types of safeties, the strong safety is generally bigger, stronger, and slower. Coaches often refer to (and judge) their safeties as small linebackers. These players should
The strong safety normally aligns to the tight end side of the offensive formation (also known as the strong side, hence the name strong safety), and 99 percent of the time, his pass coverage responsibility is either the tight end or a running back who leaves the backfield.
- Be above-average tacklers
- Have the ability to backpedal and quickly retreat in order to cover a specified area to defend the pass (which is called dropping into pass coverage)
- Free safety: Generally more athletic and less physical than the strong safety. He usually positions himself 12 to 15 yards deep and off the line of scrimmage.